German Shepherd Allergies: Causes And TreatmentsMedically Reviewed
Dogs, like humans, can develop various allergies. Some breeds are more susceptible than others to certain allergies so generalizing wouldn't be a good idea. Today we're taking a look at the German Shepherd and the allergies he's most prone to.
Canine allergy is estimated to be very common, with 1 in 7 dogs suffering from some kind of allergy. Allergies in dogs, as in humans, are caused by an overreaction of the immune system to an everyday substance, for example a certain food or pollen.
While allergies in humans manifest in coughing, a runny nose and itchy eyes, dog allergies mostly manifest in the skin. We’re exploring this matter a bit deeper in this article.
All dogs can develop an allergy, but some breeds are more susceptible to allergies than others. However, today we’re focusing on the common allergies German Shepherds seem to be more prone to.
German Shepherds are mostly prone to food and pollen allergies. Short haired German Shepherds will more easily suffer from skin contact allergies as well.
Causes Behind German Shepherd Skin Allergies
Even though dog allergies are mostly manifested through skin problems, the causes can be different and vary from dog to dog.
German Shepherds are in most cases affected by three types of skin allergies. They depend on the cause of the allergy.
The possible causes of German Shepherd skin problems can fall down under these three categories:
- Flea bite hypersensitivity
- Food allergies
- Environmental allergies
Most common causes of allergies in German Shepherd dogs are: flea bite hypersensitivity, food allergies and environmental allergies.
We’ll explore each one of them more closely. But first you have to be able to recognize skin allergy.
What Does Skin Allergy Look Like?
As a rule, the skin will become irritated and red. Swelling can also occur, but it’s usually a result of scratching or biting. Sometimes an allergy can cause a rash with small “papules” on the skin.
If your dog starts to lose hair or gets an ear infection as a result, the cause can possibly lay in long-term allergies that lead to atopic dermatitis.
Other symptoms indicating skin allergies are frequent sneezing and coughing, rubbing the face and constant licking of paws and belly.
Allergy Warning Signs
These signs are good indicators that you should take your Shepherd to the vet.
- Frequent scratching, licking and chewing
- Ear infections
- Hair loss
- Red and flaky skin
- Reverse sneezing
Signs that your dog might be suffering from allergies are frequent scratching, hair loss, red skin, diarrhea, coughing or reverse sneezing.
Now, let’s take a look at the three most common allergy types when it comes to German Shepherds.
1. Flea Allergy
This is the most common skin disease in dogs. Dogs are often allergic to fleas, or more precisely their saliva.
If that’s the case, flea bites lead to constant itching, red spots and inflamed skin. Dogs with flea allergies can develop irritated skin even after one bite.
The best treatment for this problem is flea control on the dog, in the house, yard and other surrounding. When it comes to reducing the itching, steroids and antihistamines can help in making your dog scratch less.
If the cause of itchy skin isn’t flea allergy, you should check for other causes, such as food allergies.
Allergies to fleas is the most common skin disease in dogs. It is followed with constant itching, red spots, and inflamed skin.
2. Food Allergy
German Shepherds are more prone to food allergies than many breeds. These allergies manifest themselves through itchy skin, so distinguishing various causes that could lead to itchy skin is very important when you want to help your dog.
If your dog has a chronic infection of the skin, but you’ve checked and no fleas are present, it’s possible that a food allergy is behind it. Other possible symptoms are an upset stomach and chronic diarrhea.
Which are the most common allergens?
The most common allergens are beef, chicken, corn, dairy, wheat and soy. Of course, there are other allergens, but these are the most common ones.
Food allergies in dogs are extremely rare, but can sometimes occur. If your dog has itchy skin, but has also an upset stomach followed with a chronic diarrhea, you should check if he’s allergic to: beef, chicken, corn, dairy, wheat and soy.
Best Diet For An Allergic Dog
The best diet for an allergic dog is one that specifically says ‘hypoallergenic’ or ‘anallergenic’ on it. This is where the proteins on the meat have been hydrolysed which means the gut doesn’t recognize it as ‘foreign’ and therefore doesn’t react to it.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to purchase these sorts of diet, the next best thing is to substitute the diet for one with a novel protein in which the dog has never reacted to before, such as venison, duck, turkey or tuna.
The best supplement to help with itchy skin are omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and have been effective in reducing skin irritations.
However, it would be a good idea to consult your vet about the diet changes before you introduce something new.
If your German Shepherd has food allergies, it will be necessary to change his diet. In most cases, the best diet would be the ‘hypoallergenic’ one. Including omega-3 fatty acids will help soothe itchy skin.
3. Environmental Allergy
Under this category fall down primarily allergies to pollen, dust and various chemicals. Observe for signs of sneezing or coughing at certain times of the year (pollen) or in certain conditions (dust). Another way that these allergies manifest is through itchy skin in the regions of the paws, underarms, belly and groin regions.
German Shepherds are one of the breeds that are very susceptible to pollen-related allergies. These allergies are genetic, so it’s very probable that they will inherit it from their predecessors. Symptoms usually start showing somewhere between three month and six years.
Pollen-related allergies are a consequence of an overactive immune system. It mistakes pollen for a threat and start fighting back with an allergic reaction, which usually starts at the beginning of a new season, especially in the late summer and fall.
Unfortunately, pollen allergies can’t be cured, only treated. A skin condition as a consequence to these inhalant allergies is called Atopic Dermatitis.
Pollen allergies are among most common allergies in German Shepherds. In order to avoid Atopic Dermatitis, these allergies have to be treated with proper medications and supplements.
A dog suffering from this condition has skin problems caused by pollen, grasses, dust, mould or trees. It’s a genetic condition.
Usually, it begins when the dog is young, as a seasonal reaction. Later it progresses until the dog is allergic to many different substances during the entire year.
Skin irritation manifests itself around the eyes and mouth, stomach, armpits, paws, groin and anal areas. Ear infections can also occur.
As we can see, German Shepherds can suffer from various allergies, as well as cause them. Not all can be cured, but they can be treated, or better yet – avoided.
Avoiding Skin Allergies
In order to avoid skin allergies caused by fleas, make sure to use an effective flea and tick medication. These medications are important not only for flea allergies, but also for preventing from possible sickness.
If you want to avoid food allergies, avoid giving commercial food with too many grain filters to your German Shepherd. Rice is the safest among grains, while corn, soy and wheat are common allergens. Table scraps should be avoided as the substances we eat sometimes can’t be processed by dogs.
Trying to avoid commercial food with preservatives, additives and proteins your dog reacts to is the best way to control your dog’s food allergy.. Any food that has been ”enriched” with supposedly healthy substances is usually just the opposite and should be avoided.
The best way to avoid allergies is to prevent any possible flea bites, and to avoid corn, soy, wheat, as well as additives and preservatives in dog food.
Treatments depend on the allergy, but two common ways of treatments are medications or environment management; in other words removing the allergen from your dog’s surrounding. Sometimes it’s a combination of the two.
If you start to notice any signs indicating skin allergies, the first thing you have to do is visit the vet who will try to determine the cause. The vet will probably run blood tests and maybe even put your dog on an elimination diet in order to determine what allergens are causing problems.
How does an elimination diet work?
The purpose of these diets is to determine what your dog is allergic to. During a certain period of time you have to feed your dog a special food, given by the vet. However, this does not work quickly.
You will only see signs of improvement after 6+ weeks as the body filters out the proteins. Therefore don’t expect a sudden change.
Over three or four months you’ll be gradually adding back other foods to your dog’s diet. When the itching and scratching begins again, you’ll know where the problem is and you can eliminate it from your dog’s diet completely.
Treating skin allergies isn’t that difficult when you know the cause. Usually, all it takes is a nutritional change when it comes to food allergies. Environmental allergies can be controlled with inhalant allergy medications and cream conditioners under running water.
However, not all dogs are the same, so you should always consult your vet and make a treatment plan together. To sum it up, we’ve prepared a list of treatments and tricks to avoid allergies!
If a dog is suffering from food allergies, usually an elimination diet has to be implemented. This diet’s purpose is to determine which type of food is causing the allergies.
Ways To Manage And Avoid Allergies
- Fatty acids can help in reducing allergy symptoms if the allergen is not food related
- Antihistamines, steroids and other medications can help as well, but be prepared that they make your dog drowsy or bring other side effects
- If it’s pollen allergy you’re dealing with, avoid walks in the early morning and late afternoon. After walks, wipe your dog with wet towels or something similar and in order to remove the pollen
- If fleas are the problem, follow a strict flea control program such as routine spot on flea treatments or collars. Anecdotally, filling your dog’s bed with cedar should keep fleas away.
- When it comes to environmental allergies, washing the dog’s bed in hot water and vacuuming regularly will help. If your dog sits on furniture, put a blanket or something of the kind over it so you can easily wash it in hot water.
- Bathe with hypoallergenic dog shampoo to keep the allergic skin from drying out. Shampoos that contain tea tree oil or oatmeal are also meant to help.
- Keep your dog away from humid parts of the house, like the basement or the laundry room
- Immunotherapy is a possibility
How does immunotherapy work?
Immunotherapy is often called ”allergy shots”. This therapy isn’t helping in easing the symptoms, but making the dog less allergic by exposing him to small amounts of his allergens. However, this doesn’t work for food allergies.
This is not an effective therapy in all cases. About 60 to 80 percent do well with the shots, while others show signs of some relief or don’t respond to it at all. It’s also a long-term therapy, don’t expect it to work at once, it takes up to a year sometimes!
If your dog is responding well to this therapy, shots on a regular basis will be needed for the rest of his life. A vet will teach you to give the shots yourself, if that what you prefer.
Immunotherapy can be helpful with skin and environmental allergies. It works by exposing a dog to small amounts of the allergens causing the problem in order to make a dog less allergic to them.
German Shepherds can sometimes be more prone to certain allergies than some other breeds, including food and pollen allergies. As pollen allergies are genetic, it’s probable that your Shepherd will inherit the allergy from its parents or someone else.
Most allergies in dogs result in skin problems so look out for various symptoms indicating allergies. Even though not all allergies can be cured, they can be treated rather easily and they are easy to spot.
Allergies in dogs are very common and usually not serious, so you don’t have to worry if your Shepherd suffers from some type of allergy. Figure out the cause with a vet and start applying the necessary treatment methods and everything will be fine.
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr Joanna de Klerk, BVetMed (hons) MScTAH.
Joanna graduated from the prestigious Royal Veterinary College in London and works as a veterinarian for dogs, cats and horses. She has a particular interest in nutrition, pain management, neurological disorders and welfare. She has written two books 'Tales from a Young Vet' and 'Tales from a Wild Vet'.